Between Easter travel and the scramble to April 30th deadlines for both Hugo nominations and the end of the SPSFC2 semifinals, April was a bit of a chaotic reading month, and I ended up reading less short fiction than usual. But as always, I still have something to recommend. So let’s get to it.
It was a short magazine review this month, with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in an off month, but I still liked most of what I read from Clarkesworld and GigaNotoSaurus. And it was also a short month of miscellaneous short fiction, with one extremely clear favorite.
- “The Narrative Implications of Your Untimely Death” (2023 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. Look, Isabel J. Kim is fantastic. To the point that I’ve read every story she’s published, she headlined my Astounding Award nominating ballot, and I even made a tier list, for anyone curious about trying her work. Anyways, this piece about a reality TV show with a longer-than-lifetime contract has just the right combination of very meta cultural observation and poignant emotional moments, tied together by a fascinating premise. It’s excellent. As usual.
Others I Enjoyed in April
- “I Am Ai” (2023 novelette) by Ai Jiang. With a lot of time building up a dystopia where a tech giant controls almost all aspects of life and the working class can barely scrape together an existence, this will be a favorite of those who enjoy worldbuilding-heavy, thematic novelettes–though it doesn’t lack for dramatic moments. (I received an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. “I Am Ai” will be released on June 20, 2023).
- “Turn to Stone Ourselves” (2022 short story) by Marie Croke. A magic-infused short about sculptors who immortalize the dead in a second life of living stone, with a fitting emphasis on transformation in a society not always ready to view people differently.
- “The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside” (2023 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. If the Fair Folk ran corporations, what would summer internships be like? A fascinating premise for a deeply character-driven story.
- “Fairy Godmother Advice Column” (2022 flash fiction) by Leah Cypess. An advice-giving godmother bringing amusing subversions of famous fairy tales.
Novels and Novellas
- Three Grams of Elsewhere (2023 novel) by Andy Giesler. Set up like a cyberpunk murder mystery, but reads a lot more like an old man very explicitly recounting his version of the story–with all the digressions that entails–all the while emphasizing the importance of empathy in society. And if you nail the old man voice, that really works. Giesler does, and the plot comes together at the end to put a cherry on top.
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972 novel) by Gene Wolfe. This is not especially accessible, but it’s fascinating stuff, with three novellas put together to hint at an overall picture of colonialism, identity, and probably a lot more. The opening piece can be read alone as a sort of dark coming-of-age, with the other two added for those who want to dive into the weeds.
- The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny (1977 novel) by R.A. Lafferty. One of Lafferty’s least accessible and most experimental, it’s an epistolary alt history about a world where the idyllic 20th century was never marred by Great Wars or Great Depressions. Unless they were, and society collectively decided to forget. I also kinda loved it.
- The Blue, Beautiful World (2023 novel) by Karen Lord. An interesting structure, with the first half of the novel consisting in a pop star working behind the scenes to train a coalition of leaders for first contact, and the latter half showing the actual contact. A fantastic start, albeit with an ending that felt a little rushed.
Other April Reads
- A Half-Built Garden (2023 novel) by Ruthanna Emrys. A diplomatic first contact novel, with a fascinating Earth-based society trying to handle well-intentioned colonists. The terrestrial political struggles were a weak point, but it’s easy to see why so many people loved this one. Full review to come.
- The Ninth Rain (2017 novel) by Jen Williams. The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy, with a fascinating exposition driven by the scholar main character, but weaker antagonists and most of the closure left to the rest of the series. Full review to come.
- Unraveller (2022 novel) by Frances Hardinge. A deeply thematic young adult novel about hatred, curses, and recovery. Both a gripping fantasy adventure in an uncanny and dangerous wood and a fantastic dive into the psyche of a pair of teens intimately connected to terrible curses. I’ll be disappointed if this doesn’t get serious consideration for the Lodestar and Andre Norton Awards. Full review to come.
- Saint Death’s Daughter (2022 novel) by C.S.E. Cooney. A fantastic narrative voice, from the perspective of a necromancer with a debilitating allergy to the unrelenting violence of her family. Plenty of little jokes to lighten the tension, but never enough to take away from the compelling story of the lead coming to grips with her own power and its role in both her family and her society. This is one of a very short list of books in the running for best novel I read published in 2022. Full review to come.
I finished my absurdly ambitious attempt at an all-hipster Bingo card, managing 19 four-or-five-star books that weren’t read by anyone else in the 2022 r/Fantasy Bingo challenge. And I took a look at the 2023 Bingo, which looks to be the most challenge since I started participating.
We finished the semifinals, and my team posted full reviews for six semifinalists. Each of our team scores include my personal thoughts, as well as those of my teammates, with links to full reviews when available.
- The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August.
- Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour.
- Night Music by Tobias Cabral.
- Debunked by Dito Abbott.
- The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra.
- Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin.
The first three earned positions in the SPSFC2 finals, where they will be joined by four new books for us to read over the next couple months:
- Aestus: Book 1: The City by S.Z. Attwell.
- Melody by David Hoffer.
- Hammer and Crucible by Cameron Cooper.
- Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne.